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Saturday 10 December 2016

Leo Cullen: 'I have a lot of faith in the people of Leinster'

PRO12 and Champions Cup play-offs are his first goals

Leo Cullen
Leo Cullen

It could have been a scene from The Godfather.

They made an offer Leo Cullen simply couldn't refuse.

The new Leinster coach has embraced the expectations from supporters that he was central to creating as a player rather than try to downplay them.

"I want, we want to be ambitious and if we're an ambitious club we want fans that come out and support an ambitious club," he said in his first press conference ahead of tonight's friendly clash against Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium.

He listed off the last seven seasons and the trophies which have been piled high into the cabinet.

"Last year, we didn't win silverware so there's going to be questions asked about that," he said.

The answer was to fire the coach. That is where the Professional Games Board stand in terms of what they can and can't accept.

Cullen starts with a clean slate and with Ireland international Kevin McLaughlin as his captain during the World Cup. He talked of the 'Leinster Way' and how it will live on through the twin objectives, to entertain and win, where it is the best course of action.

He laid out the minimum goals for the end of the season.

"It is about putting ourselves in position," he declared.

"We're in two competitions. In the League, we want to make the semi-finals, ideally a home semi-final. We want to qualify for knock-out rugby in both competitions.

Landscape

"The landscape is changing in Europe. It is getting harder and harder.

"The resources that other teams are putting into that competition are greater than they were five or six years ago. That's just the reality."

Cullen has always been in the business of winning. It was his barometer as a captain and now, even more so, as a coach.

That position may have come earlier than he would have planned. It may or may not be the smart thing to do. Time will tell that tale.

For the moment, the passion poured out of a man more renowned for his pragmatism.

"I have a lot of faith in the people around me, a lot of faith in the people that are in Leinster," he said.

"It has been such a big part of what I have done. It occupies a lot of my thoughts, every day of my life."

There is a sense that the rancour that existed between Matt O'Connor and the IRFU will not be there this season.

"I understand the dynamic," he said. "It is a massive part of the remit of a provincial coach to ensure there is a steady supply of Irish talent coming through the system, whatever you want to call it, a pyramid approach.

"The national team is something we want a guy to walk in here, whether he comes from a school or a club, and he has ambitions to play for Ireland and beyond that as well, potentially with the Lions, for example.

"We would almost question a player who didn't have those aspirations because other players are wanting to play for Ireland."

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